Temporary Overseas Travel
Why expat insurance? Every year, thousands of Canadian expats go abroad for extended periods of time. Most Canadians are aware of the fact that their provincial medical plan provides very limited benefits when traveling overseas. As a result, the majority of those leaving the country on temporary trips purchase medical insurance beforehand. In fact, surveys typically show that somewhere between 66 and 75% of Canadians traveling outside of their home province purchase travel insurance before leaving home. But expatriates have it different. Canadian travel insurance is designed for those traveling less than 6-7 months, that can stay on the provincial medical system.
Leaving Canada Permanently
However, normal travel insurance is limited to Canadian residents. Provincial medical plans consider ‘residents’ to be those who limit their trips outside the country to six months or less (seven months in Ontario). For longer trips or for those moving overseas for work or study, an expatriate travel insurance policy is necessary. Several Canadian insurers sell these policies, and they are also available from international insurance companies. Of course, many countries have government plans for their citizens that will cover foreign workers and students as well.
A problem often arises when these Canadians return home. Many are unaware of the fact that they are not immediately covered by provincial health care. In fact, four provinces – BC, Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick – impose a three-month waiting period on new and returning residents. Even in other provinces, it takes time to apply for and receive provincial medical coverage. If a returning resident goes directly from the airplane to a local hospital due to a medical emergency, medical services may not be covered. Moreover, returning Canadians who have only come home for a short visit will also not be covered by any provincial medical plan.
A further complication involves Canadians returning to one of the four provinces listed above who have already developed a medical condition. Private medical insurance will not cover ‘unstable’ medical conditions, meaning that this condition would not be covered even if medical insurance had been purchased in advance.
Medical Insurance Planning
Clearly, Canadians leaving the country for more than six or seven months need to plan for their medical insurance needs. Here are some common strategies:
1. Ask for a Waiver – most provinces will allow residents a ‘one time’ waiver for extended trips, meaning that they can remain covered by provincial medical care for up to one year. Of course, in BC, Alberta and Ontario, this means continuing to pay provincial medical premiums.
2. Buy a Long-Term Policy – before leaving Canada, purchase an expatriate policy that will cover your entire trip overseas, including an extra three months while you are waiting for provincial medical care to resume. If you remain overseas for longer than planned, be sure to renew your policy before it expires, or purchase an alternate policy instead. If you decide to return home early, many policies will refund part of your premium if you have not made a claim. However, be aware of international policies that may not cover you in Canada.
3. Use Foreign Insurance – if you are covered by foreign government or private insurance, see if you can extend it for an extra three months before returning to Canada, so that you have insurance while you are waiting for provincial medical coverage to begin.
4. Wait for Medical Conditions to become Stable – if you have developed a new medical problem, wait for it to become ‘stable’ before returning to Canada so that you can purchase Visitors-to-Canada medical insurance for the three-month waiting period. The stability period for some policies is as short as four months.
5. Return to a Prairie or Atlantic province – if you have to return to Canada without insurance and know that you will need immediate medical attention, move to one of the six provinces that does not have a wait time. This may involve establishing a temporary residence there and then moving to another province later.
Rejoining Provincial Medical
Once you have returned to Canada, one of your first steps should be to reapply to join your provincial medical care program. If you delay your application, you may find that it takes longer than three months for provincial coverage to resume. Medical fees charged by some provinces are based on your prior year’s income, so try to bring back proof-of-income from any foreign country where you were residing.